The Abandoned 001 – Dragon Quest Builders

Time played – Christ only knows. I did look but I sold the game so can’t check Too long. 20-odd hours.

I hate abandoning games. Almost as much as I hate completing them, apparently. The general rule of thumb is that if I don’t hate it from the first play and have a nagging itch to go back to it then it’s worth investing time in, or at least investing time in until I realise I hate it.

Last week I abandoned Dragon Quest Builders because holy fucking shit that game is a chore. A chore with a massive identity crisis. A chorentity crisis. No? No, ok.

The demo of DQB sold me pretty hard on the concept. A JRPG lite combined with the flogged to death Minecraft clone template (IE building shit but not nearly as intuitive as Minecraft has become) seemed like a lovely prospect at the beginning. You wander round clobbering monsters, gathering materials, crafting gear and building your town up, going out on fetch quests, unlocking more rooms that provide different equipment or food or buildables etc etc. The skinner box obsessive in me wanted to smash that button so fucking hard and so often to give me all the calorific but nutritionally devoid treats. Mmm mm, tasty, tasty pointlessness.

As far as I could see (because fuck doing actual research, this is the fourth time I’ve started this bloody blog, and I’m on a roll so if I stop I may not restart) The game is split up into 4 chapters, which are essentially 4 different areas. You wander to an area where you meet an NPC who starts that areas story and you start building your town from fetch quests drip fed to you from even more npcs who show up on your doorstep to sponge off you, because the dark lord has removed everyone’s ability to create. Seriously, no bugger can make anything, only you as the fabled Builder can.

Even as JRPG concepts go it’s pretty spurious.

So as charmingly localised NPCs boggle at your ability to put 2 and 2 together and make a kitchen so you can cook food (which is a good point actually, how do these chumps even sustain themselves?) they then send you out to look for new plans to build fortifications, rooms, gear and so on all while being primary coloured and knowingly humourous and generally genial and nice.

Sounds ok, yeah? Well…

One cardinal gaming sin that makes me want to grind my teeth down to bloody stumps is any section that’s trial and error, and the bosses in this game are precisely that.

Spoilers for the bosses if you care about that kind of thing.

In the first chapter you’re tasked with building a stockade to defend against the giant Golem that destroyed the town back in ye olden days. It is not a maximum security stockade that four resourceful ex-military types might be able to escape from to the Los Angeles underground, but it’s pretty hardcore. Once you’ve built this stockade you can trigger the end of chapter fight. You’re not given any information about the fight except that it’s a big bastard and this stockade will help.

The fight is bullshit. It’s not difficult once you know what’s going on, but up until that point you notice a couple of things;

  1. The stockade you’re required to build is only on one side of the town. The Golem teleports to 3 sides of the town and starts lobbing boulders to destroy all your hard work and
  2. It doesn’t matter anyway, because once you’ve defeated the Golem you can move onto the next chapter where all your materials are lost and you have to start from scratch.

So you move onto the next Chapter devoid of any materials and you’re required to start all over again, which it does tell you before you move on but is still no less frustrating.

The second boss is worse. You are given a ballistae blueprint and are told to set them up all around the town, but ultimately it doesn’t matter because the boss always stops in the same place. The biggest problem is building them high enough to make sure they hit the boss (which it very vaguely explains) and then making sure you have enough biult to cover every angle, because the direction of fire is erratic and shallow you’ll frequently miss.

You also have unavoidable boss attacks and the collateral damage you cause as you swing wildly to clobber spawned in enemies that you inevitably destroy walls and defenses, then scramble to try and rebuild them in between dodging more attacks and enemies and it becomes clear the actual major flaw with the game is it really doesn’t know what it wants to be.

If you took the game as a JRPG it falls flat because the combat is a bit like the Legend of Zelda series, but without any kind of nuance or diversity the items bring to the game. It has no skill trees or any kind of magic system to make combat interesting or fresh. You just run at things and hit them till they fall over, rinse and repeat. Also, there were no obvious side quests. Sometimes you’d come across something out in the world that ended up being a quest, but there’s practically no diversity to the core of the gameplay.

If you took it as a base builder it also falls flat, because the UI and controls are pretty clunky. You can raise or lower the blocks with the shoulder buttons which lock your character into ‘strafe’ so you can move along a straight line but it requires a little bit more dexterity than my stupid fingers can manage, so I ended up placing blocks and having to delete them then trying again in a very protracted manner.

And then there’s the bane of all console builder games, the UI. I have no idea how they’d fix the UI. These kind of things tend to go along the lines of making it it as functional as you can on a controller and then relying on people’s ability to adjust to it and put up with its idiosyncrasies.

In the end it was the lack of any kind of willingness for it to commit to either genre that put me off. The removal of all your materials between each chapter was a frustrating niggle and I kind of saw why they did it but still. Ultimately it was a big slog of grinding and grinding and grinding, be it materials to build with, to being sent out into the world on multiple fetch quests with no real variance or variety.

It’s out on the Switch soon (or already out) and I’m utterly baffled as to why they released this before the second one instead of just releasing the second one with co-op and (presumably) some tweaks to the formula. Then I remembered it’s Bandai Namco and if it’s one thing you can rely on Japanese publishes for it’s farming out the same version of a game multiple times to squeeze as much money out of people as possible. I’m fucking looking at you as well, Capcom. You bastards.

Bitterness aside, it’s a shame I stopped playing this if for no other reason than it has so much promise and just completely fails to live up to any of it.

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006 – Sundered

Completed 16/02/2018. 18h09m50s

After mainlining Horizon Zero Dawn to the tune of 57 hours in the space of two weeks I’d run out of veins to tap when it came to completing something from the pile of shame, so I took a little gaming break by going back to my usual routine of shooting strangers in the face and wandering around with no real objective or aim.

In video games. Not in real life. That would be irresponsible. Although the second part is accurate to my actual life.

In a vain attempt to reduce the vast, looming obelisk that is my gaming backlog I decided to plunge back into Sundered, a game I’d already invested a decent chunk of time in because, hey, HOW MUCH LONGER COULD IT TAKE RIGHT?!

Apparently another 8 hours. Sigh.

Sundered is a splendid little Metroidvania type affair where your dialogue-bereft avatar Eshe wanders around a semi randomly generated landscape looking for Elder Shards for some reason I can’t remember. Mainly because a voice tells her to. There’s plot there about an ancient civilisation and what happens when some other race turns up and blah blah I don’t know.

It follows the usual tropes Castlevania and Metroid laid down decades before and doesn’t do anything particularly original with them, but it does it very well. The movement and combat is really nimble, fluid and punchy. The game is technically designed to be more free form than linear so once you get a major upgrade (like double jump for example) areas can be accessed in any order if you get stuck, although sometimes you will just need to suck it up and keep trying to kick a boss in the nuts.

It also looks effing gorgeous. The graphics have a hand animated look to them, and have seemingly drawn inspiration from Lovecraft, Lawrence of Arabia and Dante’s Inferno by way of 1920s art deco.

The general story theme follows a Lovecraftian bent as well, which means lots of areas with names that have way to many apostrophes and not enough vowels and enemies with lots of tentacles, which is pretty much guaranteed to sell me a game if I’m honest. Despite HP Lovecraft being a massive racist dickbag. Art vs artist and all that. At least he died penniless.

The one thing that may or may not be a decent twist on the formula (and I’ll explain why in a sec) is that when you receive an Elder Shard you are given a choice; would you like to Embrace it or Reject it. Essentially use it to upgrade yourself or destroy it. I’m not sure what happens when I destroy it because, naturally, I embraced that Elder God shit and metaphorically injected it straight into my neck because why wouldn’t you?

When you Embrace your moves evolve into superpowered versions of themselves so the double jump becomes a teleport you can direct wherever you want, for example. This tends to make traversing the late game much easier but the whole thing is such a god damned joy to play it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make some of the later bosses much easier at all, mind. Some of those guys can just do one. There is the very real possibility that exactly the same thing happens if you Reject but with a different graphic effect applied. I might find out one day. Maybe.

Sundered is a cracker, then. Some frustrations, but it says something when as soon as I finished it I started a brand new playthrough to see what Rejecting the Elder Shards did. It’s no wonder I’ve barely finished any games this year.

8/10

004 – Horizon Zero Dawn

Completed 20/01/2018; Took precisely 61 hours, 30 minutes and 31 seconds until I was done with this fucking thing.

I can’t remember the last time a video game pushed my patience to its very limit and still have me put 60+ hours into it. My memory is pretty terrible at the best of times, but I’m pretty sure I’d remember the last time I’d played something that made me veer from utter, sheer pleasure at mechanics and storyline and dialogue and art direction into dire, seething rage at bullshit design decisions in the space of about 10 seconds. Maybe Bioshock Infinite, and even then not like Horizon Zero Dawn has.

Art direction, theme and story carry a lot of weight with me when they’re done right. I’ll put up with an INCREDIBLE amount of bullshit if I’m engaged enough in a world, hence me being part of the smallish group of people that loved the Bioshock games. While the bullshit in HZD is actually quite tiny compared to all the plus sides of this game, it jars so fundamentally with the rest of the experience it just makes it more prominent.

The rage it induces also stems from the fact that the open world design is slightly wonky. It is Guerrillas first attempt at it, and after the string of mediocre and incredibly linear Killzone games it’s a pretty great first attempt, but the game allows you into battles I later realised I was woefully under-equipped for. I was struggling for currency and materials to get the highest bows that do the most damage (which I was trying to mainline towards) and I also underestimated the importance of having the ‘correct’ armour, but if I couldn’t afford the weapons I definitely couldn’t afford the armour anyway. Also, they placed the major hub so far from where you start I didn’t get there till 20 hours into my playthrough, and I get the feeling I was supposed to be there WELL before then.

There’s also the frequency of getting caught on world scenery, the camera being obscured when you’re fighting flying foes and the erratic nature of melee combat. Also, it takes a long time to steady your aim for precise shots. All of these aren’t nearly as rage inducing as some of the (for want of a better word) ‘boss’ fights.

The worst offender of shitty design decisions is when you encounter an enemy called the Rockbreaker. HZD’s world is host to many wonderful machine-beast designs and aesthetically this is no different, but the battles with the Rockbreakers enraged me so much I wanted to snap my pad in half, shove it through the TV and then use the broken TV to smash my Playstation 4 into teeny tiny pieces. Then set the pieces on fire. And then piss on the ashes.

The first Rockbreaker battle takes place in an obvious arena as a side quest. The Rockbreaker burrows underground, pops up where it hears you and has a chomp at you, then fucks off back underground. This would be fine if a) you could easily track where it was and b) the game wasn’t so picky about what it considers indestructible. The bloody thing smashes through rocks I thought I could hide behind (Rockbreaker, duh) but is impotent against wooden shacks. It also can be a one hit kill if it burrows directly underneath you and you’re not lucky (yes, actual luck, not skill) to roll out of the way. I found no way to 100% dodge the fucking things unless you’d managed to get a Frozen status effect on them which in itself was difficult because you had to actually get enough distance between you and it to get the arrows or bombs on it. Laying traps didn’t work because the animation cycle was just too long. You’d go to set some kind of trap and the bastard would just pop up and bite your face off.

I died a good 10-12 times before I looked up online how to beat it because I was 2 steps shy of throwing the whole lot out of the window. When the majority of responses to the question “How the fuck do you defeat a Rockbreaker?” is “Cheese it.” you have a problem. In the end that’s what I did. I found a shack it couldn’t break in the arena, healed myself through its long range attacks and wore it down with arrows after lobbing frost bombs. Entirely unsatisfying.

At this point I was still playing on Medium/Normal difficulty. I try to stick to default difficulty as much as I can but am not particularly adverse to knocking it down to Easy because I like games to be fun, not crotch punchingly difficult.

Imagine my utter, pure, orgasmic delight when I found that one of the Corrupted Zones (one of many side distractions in the game) contained not one Rockbreaker, but TWO! OH JOY! RAPTURE. Whoopee fucking doo. Sigh.

This is where I knocked it down to easy, because the bullshit was strong with this one. You ‘pulled’ one Rockbreaker which, I might add, was well out of the line of sight of the other one and you’d pull both of them. There was a stone archway which I thought would provide me with some cover and while they couldn’t break it I did have many deaths which can only be attributed to complete and utter bollocks game design. The creatures would clip through the rock I thought I was safe behind and kill me instantly, or just pop up behind me and double team me.

So I got on top of the archway. Nope, they jump at you. It was only after I’d knocked the difficulty down that they seemed to get stupider and they decided to lob rocks at me from afar and I took them down in a painfully slow and attritional manner.

It’s a shame because there’s so much else right with the game. I guess in the end it might not be that much of a big deal, but at the time I just wanted rid of it.

The art design is wonderful. I have the book on the way because it fills me with all sorts of joy that the world is so diverse and imaginative. I love that shit, man. Guerrilla have populated it with Characters (capital C) that feel unique and charming and while the voice acting of lesser NPCs is woeful and the animation of them feels stilted a litte, the main characters smash through the uncanny valley by means of animation with amazing attention to detail, especially Aloy.

There aren’t enough redheaded, befreckled protagonists. There could never be enough.

Ahem.

Aloy is a sassy, capable, very human character who you get on board with pretty much from the start. So many games struggle to make their protagonist someone who you can like and empathise with. Hell, a lot of them struggle to make the buggers memorable, never mind anything else. But with Aloy you’re right there beside her, pushing on to find out what her story is. And it’s a right old story too.

I’ll not spoil anything. I’m not exactly a connoisseur of high concept science fiction. I generally like my entertainment to be loud and daft, but I don’t like it to be stupid and HZD’s story is far from stupid. It takes some common sci fi themes and does things with them in such a way that I didn’t predict what was happening as the story unfurled. Saying that I didn’t see Bruce Willis being a ghost either, so take from that what you will.

There’s a slow realisation of how the world had ended and a genuine feeling of creeping horror akin to Charlton Heston realising he was on earth all along in Planet Of the Apes. It’s so very very cool. It’s kind of a shame they spunked it all in one game really.

I was going to bring up Breath of the Wild in this little brain vomit but it doesn’t really seem fair to. Horizon Zero Dawn, despite its flaws, had its hooks into me but when BotW had a borderline seamless world where as long as you had enough food boosts or gear you could go literally anywhere the world glitches and obstructions in all other open world games rankle massively.

However HZD and BotW are both great games, and are probably the best examples of Western vs Eastern video game development, at the very least specifically for open world games. Horizon can be very ‘hand holdy’ and lead you to specific places with specific intent using specific restrictions, whereas BotW basically kicks you out into the world and uses incredible design to draw you to a place of interest without you knowing it.

I started HZD shortly after BotW last year and got 13 hours into it before I realised I was comparing it to Zelda and it was impacting my enjoyment quite severely so I stopped playing it. I’m glad I did, because for all it’s flaws Horizon Zero Dawn was a wonderful experience.

003 – Titanfall 2

Completed 4/1/2018. No idea how long the campaign took.

The Titanfall series deserves better than what EA gave it. I’ve no idea why they threw so much money at a game they sent out to die between two of 2016s biggest releases. I mean, one of those releases was their own bloody IP so it’s not like they got caught off guard.

They did release some flannel about how they thought there was a market for Titanfall AND Battlefield, but that just goes to show how narrow a field of view they have. People just don’t have the time or inclination for more than one FPS in their lives.

So Titanfall 2 fell by the wayside somewhat, although it has had a steady pick up of players over the last year or so due to the incredibly generous post release DLC schedule which positively takes a massive, steamy dump all over everyone else’s due to the simple fact it’s all been free. There’s paid cosmetic DLC in the form of banners, titan skins, paint jobs and Prime Titans (which I bought in the sale, because Respawn deserve my money but obviously not at full whack. Because I’m a bell-end) but they wanted to maintain parity between all players and didn’t want to segregate the base, so everyone has the same content. Given how small that base was thanks to EA’s fuckwittery it was the best decision.

I won’t brook any argument that the relative failure of Titanfall 2 to set the world of online gaming on fire is anything other than EAs due to the simple fact Titanfall 2 is fucking brilliant. Like the first game, it takes the FPS and turns it to a Spinal Tap-esque 11. All the gimmicks that Call of Duty has now abandoned like wall running, double jumping, sliding etc has been crafted with a fluidity that makes even the most cack handed chimp like yours truly feel like some futuristic parkour master with the reflexes of Spider-man.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the game has massive stompy robots in it. God I love this game.

Anyway, the multiplayer is fantastic and I’ve known that since I bought the bloody game.

The single player is also very good, but comes up short of consistent greatness due to constantly breaking the flow of some incredible set pieces with frequent instadeath situations. To put it another way, the game suffers from Repetitive Death Syndrome (or RDS). It’s difficult to be continually impressed by something when you’ve seen it for the umpteenth time.

However, it has some of the most inventive and ingenius levels, set pieces and events I’ve seen in an FPS. Good example; the Effect and Cause mission where you effectively jump instantaneously between different points in time. It works fantastically.

Or the level where a massive factory constructs buildings and live fire test arenas around you while you attempt to navigate it and not be squished.

Or the frequent need for BT 7274, the mech who commandeered your neural link after Captain Lastimosa (your commanding officer and his Pilot) is killed, to throw you through the air to reach locations.

Or leaping from aircraft to aircraft and fighting a flying mech while shit gets blown up all around you!

It’s pure spectacle on many levels, and usually not necessarily in that superficially forgettable way video games tend to manage. It’s just a shame about all the constant threat of RDS.

Another let down with the game is that the villains aren’t used to better effect. The named people with their custom titans are quite well realised (if a little stereotypical, and I’m 99% sure they named Richter a) to use the Total Recall pun for the achievement/trophy and b) told the voice actor to do their best Arnold Schwarzenegger impression) but on the normal difficulty you can dispatch them with ease, and it makes it feel anticlimactic.

Overall it’s a solid blast. BT is one of the best secondary characters in any video game. Being a robot he often doesn’t understand some of the phrases Cooper uses and his flat, deadpan delivery is often a source of levity and amusement. I loves BT, I do.

If the multiplayer wasn’t an obvious enough draw, you can get Titanfall 2 for a tenner these days (which is fucking criminal, I might add) and it’s well worth it for a decent single player campaign.

8/10

002 – Doki Doki Literature Club *Spoilers*

Completed  -3/1/2018. Again, it took about 3 hours.

I tried to write a spoiler free blog for this and it was like 4 sentences long. That’s barely a paragraph and to be honest this game deserves more because it’s done something to me that I don’t like video games doing. It’s made me think.

So if you have not played this game stop reading this blog now. Seriously, please just stop. I’m not going to tell you to go and download the game IMMEDIATELY, because it absolutely won’t be for everyone, but it IS free and on Steam, it can run on a calculator, it takes between 3-5 hours to finish and in all honesty, even after the curveball of Pony Island, it’s pretty unique as video games go. Fair warning given.

5

4

3

2

1

Visual novels are something I don’t usually give any time of day as they don’t engage me in the slightest. From my (admittedly limited) knowledge of them they tend to encompass all the god-awful tropes about anime that I absolutely hate; stereotypes and archetypes so flogged to death there’s no meat left on the bones, twists you can see coming a mile off or that are so obtuse you have no idea where it came from, and either convoluted puzzle mechanics or puzzles so simple you just click dialogue trees until you’re bored.

Dating sims I avoid for similar reasons; girls with massive eyes, lewd comments about boobs, an empty vessel of a protagonist who you’re supposed to pour yourself into to try and navigate social engagements that you normally would completely avoid in real life while ‘picking’ a suitable person to date like it’s some kind of fucking vending machine with dialogue trees.

Or so I understand.

I only played Doki Doki Literature Club (or DDLC for short because fuck typing all that nonsense) because a friend recommended it (we’ll call him ‘Jonny’. Because that’s his name). He normally wouldn’t recommend this kind of weeb nonsense as he’s well aware of my predisposition of telling him to fuck off and not recommend such bollocks to me, so there must have been some kind of subversion of the norm or a twist of M Night Shyamalan proportions for him to do so. The only caveats were “Get through the first hour of the game so you’re up to the weekend.” and “Don’t Google it or read any spoilers about it.”

So with some trepidation I installed and loaded it and was immediately assaulted by all the things I hate about anime and visual novels. Standard.

You play a protagonist of your naming, who has a female friend you’ve known since you were little, Sayori. She’s a ditz; all calamity, chirpiness and optimism and you’re practically an empty vessel who likes anime. You never have an avatar, you see the back your own head once and that’s it. This is incredibly important to how the game grabs you by the bollocks and squeezes them until you are on your knees, because it wants YOU to be responsible for all that happens, despite you never really being in control and your decisions making fuck all difference to the outcome of anything.

At school you’re harassed by Sayori to join an after school club, more specifically her Literature Club. She’s vice president, and they need more members. She endearingly pesters you until you acquiesce and off you scoot to the club where you meet 3 improbably (yet stereotypically) cute girls. There’s the President, Monika, and the other two members, Natsuki and Yuri.

All three are dating game/anime typecast characters; Monika is the seemingly popular go-getter beautiful type, Natsuki is the diminutively bratty yet feisty type and Yuri is the tall and shy but seemingly lagoon-deep type.

The first hour or so of the game is taken up over the first week of Literature Club. You have conversations with the other members and each night you’re given the task of writing a poem to share at the next days club. This is presented as a notebook with chibi versions of Sayori, Natsuki and Yuri and a page of seemingly innocuous words.

Words like ‘waterfall’, ‘charm’ and ‘peaceful’. Also ‘wrath’, ‘misery’ and ‘scars’. This is where the alarm bells started ringing.

Because DDLC is actually a psychological horror game masquerading as a visual novel dating simulator and I hate Jonny for convincing me to play it. The complete and utter bastard.

The game does an incredible job of making you care about the cast in a ridiculously short time frame which isn’t apparent until you get to the weekend and Sayori is acting funny and out of character from her airheaded, overly optimistic and borderline childlike self. She’s withdrawn and downcast and over the weekend confesses to you that the reason she’s so chirpy and ‘up’ all the time is because she’s uses that personality to mask the severe depression and subsequent lack of self worth she’s suffered with for most of her life.

Pardon?

I didn’t expect this. Out of all the possible outcomes of the ‘twist’ I was expecting, I didn’t expect the confession of an avatar in a supposed dating sim visual novel to affect me as much as this did. Sayori was a delightful character who, by all rights, I shouldn’t have given a flying fuck about but the way she (and ultimately the others) had been set up in such a short space of time made this horrible. Turns out this was just the beginning of  the ‘twist’.

There were other clues before this. The poems your Club members share with you seem abstract at first but you’d have to be a complete dullard to not notice some underlying subtexts, like Sayori’s poem about keeping happy thoughts in jars for all to see. And, y’know, the one about getting out of her head. Subtle that was not.

The game then falls back into its flirtatious, light-hearted nature when you group up with Natsuki or Yuri (depending who you decided to help out for the Club Festival preparations) albeit with some more underlying insinuations that both members are having problems of a family or psychological nature, until Sayori stumbles upon you about to have an intimate moment with your chosen weekend buddy, whereupon they scarper and Sayori confesses her long seated love for you and also that she doesn’t deserve you so she’s probably ruined everything and so on and so forth.

It then presents you with a response option. Tell Sayori she is your dearest friend and she always will be, or say you love her too. I went with the love option, because I was terrified what would happen if I just stuck her in the ‘friend zone’.

I genuinely panicked when given the option. I didn’t want Sayori to be unhappy, and the way the conversations the previous week had been going she and your avatar had been establishing a lost connection, building on years of friendship and it was coming to a blossoming romance! Or so I thought anyway.

On Monday Sayori killed herself. She hanged herself in her room.

 

I was absolutely fucking distraught.

Jonny really is a complete and utter fucking bastard.

And this is where the game gets completely off its tits. Because upon finding Sayori dead the game glitches out and crashes back to the menu screen, but only after showing you the path of a .txt file that you can find in the game install folder, but I never checked because I WAS TOO FUCKING UPSET THAT SAYORI HAD FUCKING KILLED HERSELF.

*cough*

So I went to load one of the many saves I had. I’d got a lot of saves because the class president, Monika, excellently broke the fourth wall and told me to save often, although she couldn’t tell me what she meant and dismissed it out of hand. I found all my saves had been deleted.

You start a New Game and all seems the same except Sayori’s text and avatar is corrupted beyond recognition and suddenly the game crashes out again. When you get back in there’s no Sayori, no reference to Sayori and all notions that she ever existed have gone. Instead Monika is the one that invites you to the Literature Club.

So DDLC is a meta psychological horror masquerading as a visual novel dating simulator and I despise Jonny for convincing me to play it. The utter, utter wanker.

It’s now the game starts ‘breaking’ in various ways, like the text becomes gobbledigook, or the music will rise or drop off key, sounding sinister as shit. Avatars corrupt and the UI becomes obscured. From a plot point, the week begins anew with the same structure as before but without Sayori being the chirpy voice of reason and balance, the other characters start becoming unhinged.

Still being under the illusion that I was in control of the game and who I was going to ‘date’ I started concentrating on the words that would get Yuri onside, because I genuinely did not have a clue where this bloody game was going to end up, so I thought I’d try and maintain the original premise of dating someone before it got weird.

It then got weirder.

It turns out Yuri likes knives. She has a collection, did you know? I fucking didn’t. I WISH I didn’t. Over the week her poems become more and more, well, fucking terrifying (I particularly enjoyed the illegible one presented to me on bloodstained paper) and you even catch her in an act of self harm where she’s cutting up her forearms.

She also becomes obsessed with you, up to the point where Natsuki passes you a letter disguised as a poem she’s supposed to be sharing saying that she’s incredibly worried about Yuri and that we need to get Monika to intervene. This letter is another incredible curve ball in a game where the curveballs are basically bowling balls launched at your head and/or crotch. It’s such a genuine human moment of concern when the rest of the game is literally breaking down and going belly up.

Then it’s Friday and you have to choose who to buddy up with (again) to prepare for the Festival. The game presents you with no option but to buddy up with Monika (those alarm bells that have steadily been getting louder suddenly turn to air-raid sirens) but before that Yuri shoos her and Natsuki out of the room because she has something to say to you.

Yuri then confesses her love for you in a rambling, borderline psychotic monologue and asks you if you accept her confession. Yes? Or No? I think I said No. I can’t exactly remember, but even if I said Yes the outcome would have been the same.

Yuri kills herself. She stabs herself in the stomach repeatedly with the knife she’s been self harming with.

Jonny really, REALLY is a complete and utter fucking shitbag bastard.

While not having the impact that Sayoris suicide did, this was still bloody awful, especially seeing as you then effectively spend the entire weekend in school with her lifeless corpse talking at you. Or maybe it’s supposed to represent your mind being unable to comprehend this traumatic event. Christ only knows.

Monday rolls back around, Natsuki arrives and promptly throws up at the scene, and then Monika walks in, declares she’s sorry and promptly deletes Yuri and Natsuki from the game.

At this point I shouldn’t be surprised, but here we are. The game then loads back up with Monkia not so much as breaking the fourth wall as flat out knocking it down with a wrecking ball and explaining to you how she’s aware she’s in a video game, she’s deleted the other characters because her plan of amplifying Sayoris depression and Yuris obsessive nature didn’t work so she’s flat out telling you she loves you. Not your avatar. YOU.

I knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore Toto, but now we weren’t even on the Yellow Brick Road. She called me ‘stevel’ instead of ‘steve’ (for some reason I didn’t hold down the shift button and that bothered me all the way through the game) which she must have dredged up from my Steam profile somewhere, and even told me how she did it by pointing out where the Character folder was, which now only contained the Monika file.

So I deleted it. And broke the game. Which was exactly what the game wanted me to do. This was genius. Absolute brilliance. Honestly, I thought Pony Island was good at fucking with you and the nature of ‘what a game is’ but actively going into the Steam folder, deleting a file and it affecting the game WHILE YOU’RE PLAYING IT is something else. Absolutely effing marvelous.

So the game then starts AGAIN, this time sans Monika, has Sayori as club president and everything seems well. That is until Sayori reveals she know exactly what Monika did and that she’ll finally be happy forever and ever and ever and that’s where upon the game breaks a final time. Monika actually speaks up and you get the standard ending and a song. As the song plays the game effectively uninstalls itself until you are left with an error message and if you want to play again you have to reinstall it and start again.

This game was a rollercoaster. I was chatting to He That Is Known As Bastard Jonny and another friend about it while I was playing it as it’s relatively short and they’d both finished it and while they picked up on other things I didn’t (the .txt file, and Yuri’s self harm as it’s not apparent unless you’re with her for the weekend) we all came to the conclusion that any decision you make in the game doesn’t make a lick of difference to the outcome. What’s worse, if you go in with the knowledge that Monika is the game breaker and you delete her from the off, Sayori is Club president to start but she can’t deal with the pressure and kills herself anyway!

At the beginning of this reviewsplanation blog (because I can’t actually think of what else to call 2600+ words of telling you what happens interspersed with me going WHAT THE LIVING PISS IS THIS) I said the game made me think and, at the risk of sounding like a low brow, knuckledragging and generally backward thinking shit kicker I don’t play video games to be provoked into thought. I’m sorry. I really am. Spec Ops the Line did something similar, and while Pony Island wasn’t the complete gut punch-fest DDLC was still had some excellent talking points on meta gaming commentary, but this fucking thing made me fucking care and then decided to kick me in the fucking nuts.

Maybe that’s more likely, that it’s not that I don’t want games to make me think, more that I prefer games where I don’t HAVE to think because gaming for me is wish fulfilment and escapism, which is why I generally prefer to hit things first and ask questions later when I’m playing. Maybe I’m just more comfortable with my head in the sand.

DDLC doesn’t deal with the issues in a grander scheme but does use them in a way that doesn’t feel crude or vulgar to subvert tropes in very well trodden genres. The meta game breaking is used in similar effect to that as in Pony Island; it’s very self aware and used to unsettle and skew the players feeling of control.

There are more endings and things to find in the game but I don’t think I’ll go back to it. I might YouTube the other endings and routes. I don’t even know if  I enjoyed it. I don’t tend to enjoy horror these days, but I am glad I played it.


WTF/10

001 – Pony Island

Completed – 1/1/2018. Took about 3 hours.

I thought I’d start simple and quick with this endeavour. I have Okami on the go, but since I’m at least 10 hours from the end of that I thought I’d tackle my Steam catalogue as most of the games on there are those odd games that kind of avoid categorisation and as such I have no idea what this game was about. Or even if it was a game.

A lot of people have played this, but I don’t really want to spoil it for anyone who like myself never got round to it, so I’ll say it’s either:

a) Something completely throwaway. An effective joke that’s well worth anyone’s time just for certain ways it actually knows it’s going to mess with you and then lords it up when it catches you out hook line an sinker.

b) A meta commentary on how video games and digital entertainment in general are developed and consumed by us.

c) A meta commentary how video games and digital entertainment consume us.

d) All of the above.

Personally I’d go with a), simply because I don’t like reading too much into things. When I do I tend to get the wrong end of the stick and finish up looking like a twat. What I can say is that it manages to convey a creeping sense of dread and insidiousness that most survival horror games can’t manage, despite it’s often goofy-as-fuck demeanour.

A baffling yet satisfying (and often hilarious) 8/10